“They have been keeping that one under wraps for a long time,” Cris Collinsworth said after Julian Edelman’s first ever pass attempt in the NFL.
It was a long time indeed until the New England Patriots let the former college quarterback attempt a pass in a real game. When they did call his number in January 2015’s divisional round game versus the Baltimore Ravens, however, he delivered and threw a 51-yard touchdown to fellow wide receiver Danny Amendola.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
One of the most prolific pass catchers during his 12 seasons in the league, Edelman originally entered the NFL as a quarterback. The Patriots took a seventh-round flier on the undersized Kent State passer in the 2009 draft, but had no intentions of grooming him to become Tom Brady’s backup.
Instead, the team moved him to wide receiver and punt returner immediately upon his arrival in Foxborough. The move paid off, with Edelman becoming a key member of three Super Bowl-winning teams.
Beginning on that cold January night in 2015, however, Edelman’s past started to catch up to him fairly frequently. Including the double-pass against Baltimore, Edelman attempted eight career passes between arriving in New England and announcing his retirement from pro football earlier this week:
- 2014 vs. Baltimore Ravens (Divisional Playoffs): 51-yard touchdown to Danny Amendola
- 2016 vs. Atlanta Falcons (Super Bowl 51): incomplete to Dion Lewis
- 2018 vs. Green Bay Packers: 37 yards to James White
- 2018 vs. Tennessee Titans: 6 yards to Tom Brady
- 2019 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: 32 yards to James White
- 2019 vs. Philadelphia Eagles: 15-yard touchdown to Phillip Dorsett
- 2020 vs. Denver Broncos: 22 yards to James White
- 2020 vs. Denver Broncos: 16 yards to Cam Newton
Completing seven of eight pass attempts for 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns against NFL-level competition is impressive to begin with. Edelman, however, did so as a wide receiver, in crucial situations, and, on six of his attempts, with the greatest quarterback of all time on the field as well.
The pressure was on Edelman to deliver, but the Patriots trusted him to do just that.
“I think the first thing is trust. Whenever you’re going to decide to have someone other than Tom throw the ball, I think that’s where you have to start, and you certainly have to feel comfortable with why you’re doing something. We don’t certainly go into each week with those types of things ready to go,” said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after the Patriots’ 2019 season opener against Pittsburgh.
“It has to be a certain situation or a certain thing that makes you feel good about trying that. Otherwise, you don’t ever really want to do that.”
Edelman being comfortable in situations that asked for him throwing the football is just one of the reasons why the Patriots kept giving him opportunities as a passer. According to McDaniels, he also showed that he can protect the football and make smart decisions regardless of how a play unfolded.
“That’s just as important as making it go by throwing a good pass and getting a productive play as what happens when the play isn’t necessarily good and you have to trust the person that you handed the ball to or threw it to to make a good decision,” he said.
As a result, Edelman now ended his career as the statistically most prolific passer in Patriots history. His passer rating of 158.3 is impeccable, while his 22.4 yards per attempt are outstanding. Granted, the sample size is tiny and Edelman will not qualify for conventionally built rankings as a part-time quarterback, but still: he was pretty good when asked to throw the ball.
Seems that they taught him well at Kent State after all.